In Venezuela, a week-long conference has been discussing the problems of the country's indigenous peoples.?
In Venezuela, a week-long conference has been discussing the problems of the country's indigenous peoples. Meeting in the north-western town of Paraguaipoa, delegates from thirty different indigenous organisations launched a campaign to secure greater rights and stronger senses of identity for the country's Indians and indigenous peoples. Speakers at the conference said that in every aspect of life, the Indians were disadvantaged.
SYNOPSIS: Housing was one of the conference's main concerns. Many thousands of Indians still live in primitive traditional surroundings like this lake settlement, just twenty miles from the conference venue.
The people here are the Paraujano tribe. their ancestors lived in these flimsy wooden houses and fell easy victims to the conquering Spaniards. Now, several hundred years later, they are victims again, according to Indian rights campaigners. Because they prefer to live on the lake and fish, very few people outside the settlement speak their language. This means the Paraujanos have only limited access to state health and educational facilities. The result, say the native pressure groups, is ignorance, isolation and illness.
Land ownership was another area in which conference speakers said Indians had suffered. All of the estates along this road are farmed by Indians, often non-Spanish-speaking people, but they are owned by landlords. Professor Emilio Mosonyi, head of Indigenour Studies at Venezuela's Central University told the Paraguaiopa conference that Indians were subject to "constant invasions and dispossessions" from landlords and multinational companies. Many, he said, faced expulsion at short notice, and others had no written contracts or agreements giving them security of land tenure.
Children growing up among the Indian tribes had no idea of their past history or culture, the delegates agreed. And the conference decided to press the Venezuelan Government to provide finances for educating the tribes about their heritage in their own language.
At present, the only option facing many Indians and non-Spanish speaking peoples is to drift to market towns and shanty areas like this one near the Colombian border.
Conditions here are often worse than back home. Most people speak native Guajiro as a first language, and Spanish is only rarely heard, another factor which serves to isolate the Indians. Jobs are hard to find. Most people sell vegetables or household utensils, while others turn to the more lucrative business of smuggling across the Colombian border.
The conference stressed that government participation was urgently needed to help the rapidly dying Indian culture in modern Venezuela.